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Last night I attended a course on “Writing and Publishing for Children and Teens.” It was jam-packed with good advice and important resources, but the most interesting thing to me was the “other” facilitator – an illustrator. Her name is Mary Reaves Uhles and I happened to pick up one of her picture books while waiting for class to begin – I absolutely loved it! Lots of shenanigans and different skin colors at a Grandmother’s holiday celebration:

“The Little Kids’ Table” by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle and Mary Reaves Uhles http://sleepingbearpress.com/shop/show/11704

At first I wondered if I should have been named Mary with multiple surnames, like all the nuns who taught me how to perfectly diagram a sentence, and probably set the stage for my love of reading and writing. Before popping into my class, I delivered two children’s books in Spanish to the Grands; one on Frida Kahlo and the other on Julio Cortázar! After all, they will be learning Spanish in school and why shouldn’t they think of art as a career choice? The Bride smiled at my obvious motive while she cooked up some delicious beans and rice.

One of the most important things I learned from Uhles is that when a manuscript is accepted by a publishing house, the writer has basically zero influence on the illustrator. For some reason I’d thought I would have to provide the artist along with my book, that writer and illustrator came as a duo, a married couple ’till death intervened. I might be able to suggest someone for the job, but nope, the editor gets to pick the person she/he likes. Uhles mentioned a friend who wrote a book about a family, only to find out it was finally published as a PIG family, which was not her intention, but hey…

I also learned I don’t have to rhyme, although I love reading aloud in rhyme to children. It’s like a melody that’s enhanced by harmony. But Dr Seuss seems to have cornered the market on couplets, still I’ll leave a bit of my idea for a another book on Buddha Bear. Y’all know Buddha was our wonderful part-Samoyed rescue who looked like a polar bear. One hundred pounds of pure love. https://mountainmornings.net/2011/11/03/to-a-good-dog/

Buddha Skates Across the Pond

Snowflakes settled on his nose

As Buddha stepped outside to find

A fox left tracks in the tall sea grass

And chocolate milk was on his mind

The school was closed, so back inside

He jumped to pull a crazy quilt

From Lena’s bed, “Up, up, up, sleepyhead!”

He begged with paws of icy silt

I envision a series, Buddha in the Morning, Buddha at the Beach, Buddha Gives Chase, Buddha on a Plane, etc. Which reminds me, when we arrived in Mexico, a police officer was strolling through the airport with a proud German Shepherd dog. who started sniffing all around my bag. Oh Oh, was I carrying some contraband into the country? We always thought Buddha was a drop-out from a K-9 program. It turned out this drug-sniffing dog had smelled my half of a ham sandwich from Starbucks. Needless to say, it was confiscated.

Our current combined pups:  Guinness, Ms Bean and Maple the newest IMG_2040

 

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This morning the sun is out and the temperature should be going above freezing. Underneath our coating of snow, crocus are beginning to awaken and cardinals are singing. For the first time, in a long year, I’m feeling hopeful.

Last night Bob and I attended the first in a series of USN Evening Classes. All the proceeds from ticket sales help to sponsor their need-based scholarships. First night always features a celebrity lecture, and this year did not disappoint with a third grader’s dad on the ticket. I’ve heard Jon Meacham speak before at Monticello, so I was looking forward to his insight on the state of this so-called presidency.

“We’re still here!” Meacham exclaimed, to the room of muffled laughs.

This Pulitzer Prize winner and presidential biographer went on, without notes mind you,  to remind us of his love for Andrew Jackson, “I like genocidal maniacs with a heart of gold.” More tentative laughter… Meacham dismisses Mr T’s comparison to Jackson, a fabrication of Bannon’s doing, telling us he is a simple “real estate impresario.” However, we must not dismiss his followers.

In May of 2016 he interviewed candidate Trump in his tower. Meacham arrived early and was standing alone in the huge gilded lobby on Fifth Avenue, when a family of four came through the door. They were tourists, all-middle-American folks. The young boy looked up at his dad and said, “Do you think he comes through this same door?” That beatific look of wonder, as if they were visiting a holy place, was the reason he was elected.

Mr T, like a carnival barker, managed to sell his “MAGA” movement to the forgotten middle class of the rust belt. For a family of four to live a normal middle class life in our country, they must earn at least $130,000 a year. Meacham told us that would allow them the minimum benefits of owning a home and a car and taking one vacation a year. However, the median middle class income for that same family today is around $55,000 – and the reason Mr T won lies in the difference.

Trump offered his followers the American Dream, the “Right to Rise,” as Lincoln said. Only his nationalism is a leftover from our post-WWII prosperity, with women in the kitchen and people of color knowing their “place,” and his tactics are closing our country’s borders figuratively and literally. That last part is my opinion, and part of the reason I’m marching with women on Saturday. Again.

The rest of Meacham’s speech was filled with enlightening, little-known anecdotes to illustrate his Four Characteristics of a Successful President:

  1. Curiosity – Jefferson’s insatiable intelligence
  2. Humility – JFK reaching out to Eisenhower during the Cuban missile crisis
  3. Candor – Churchill reported all the facts, he was a straight shooter
  4. Empathy – Poppy Bush, Gorbachev and the Berlin Wall

Meacham ended by reading a poignant letter that George HW Bush had sent to his mother about the loss of his three year old daughter, Robin, to leukemia. “If you want to know someone’s heart, you have to break it.”

I walked away last night wanting to read “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.”  My step, on the icy parking lot last night, wasn’t hesitant; it was as light as a feather, and my heart was full. The voter registration forms I left in our local coffee shop are almost gone.

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The South doesn’t do snow.

Bob and I were supposed to be Grandparenting this morning, but the temperature plummeted and ice is supposed to turn into snow, so the Grands are home from school with the Groom. He is a great Dad and told us he can work from home; also pancakes are his specialty!

And in light of the racist slurs that came from Mr T yesterday, I made Bob sit down on the couch this morning and put Netflix on his iPad. I heard that President Obama was going to be David Letterman’s first guest on his new gig, “My Next Guest” https://www.netflix.com/title/80209096

Cue the bluebirds. We laughed, we even teared up a little, as we listened to Obama talk about bringing his oldest to college. They were having fun with each other and when Letterman told him he really respected Obama – as a man – and embraced him, I felt so much longing for those days. For a President that could make me dream again.

So it was a bittersweet interview, because I miss that man, and nobody mentioned Mr T at ALL. Which was refreshing, but in his absence, in his void, lies uncertainty. Like children of alcoholic parents, we the American people never know what to expect from his mouth or his Twitter fingers. We were getting so close to a deal on DACA yesterday, that I have to think Mr T’s racist remarks were calculated for his base. Just another bright shiny object to deflect the press. We already knew he was a bigoted nationalist, now I wonder if this president is either terribly sinister, stupid, or suffering from Alzheimer’s. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/12/trump-denies-he-called-countries-s–holes-rejects-senators-daca-deal.html

I did not, will not and could not watch Mr T sign a proclamation for Martin Luther King Day earlier. Instead, to commemorate Dr King’s life, I hauled myself out to the outskirts of  Davidson County and registered myself to vote in TN. And I have an idea about what to do on Monday. I will print off voter registration forms and leave them at our local coffee shop.

I recently left a book there with a post-it that said, “Free book from your local Book Fairy.” In Ireland they have a Book Fairy group that does this all the time, and you’re supposed to try and do it without being caught. Yesterday I noticed someone had left another free book in their window. It felt so good to know a mitzvah was being paid forward.

It should not be so hard to vote in this democracy. That bears repeating, “IT SHOULD NOT BE SO HARD TO VOTE IN THE USA!!” President Obama talked about strengthening the habits of the heart; the more we help others, extend our hands and really connect with others, the more we advance our democracy and our own humanity.

My Nana had a saying, “When you throw your toast out on the water, it comes back with jelly on it.”

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History is always written by the victors. Except in the South…

where Confederate memorials sprouted during the Jim Crow era, and the narrative changed to more “states’ rights” and less “slavery.” I remember being surprised when we first moved to Cville at all the plaques on the side of roads commemorating some minor insurrection or another during the Civil War. That, and the graphic “No guns allowed” outside some stores – which I correctly assumed to mean all other stores were fair game.

Still, I had never heard of a white woman named, Viola Liuzzo. She was a lapsed Catholic who grew up dirt poor in Chattanooga, Tennessee and noticed that her young black neighbors, also living in one room shacks, were treated much worse than her family. Later, she would ask her daughter in a department store how she would feel if all the Santas she ever saw were black? Married, and living a middle-class life in Detroit, she defied her husband to heed MLK Jr’s call to come to Alabama after “Bloody Sunday.”

Last month Viola “…was awarded the Fred L. Shuttlesworth award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on its 25th anniversary – the only white woman killed in the Civil Rights movement.” She believed Civil Rights was everybody’s fight.

She was only 39, the mother of five, when in March of 1965 she was gunned down by the Klan; ambushed driving black voters to register to vote because she was sitting beside a 19 year old African American in her car; a “Negro man” named Leroy Moton who survived the ambush by playing dead. He later sent three of the killers to prison.

Where are her statues? Why have we heard about so many other martyrs to the cause, but not Viola? In the 1960s, there were no women’s studies, and a housewife who left her husband and children on such a dangerous quest was deemed suspect. In fact, Herbert Hoover tried to discredit her reputation by suggesting there was some “necking” going on in that car!

The fate of women authors is worse, at least film and music have left us some evidence. But publishers would discontinue certain works in the pre-internet age, and so second-hand bookstores are your last best hope of survival. For instance, before John Grisham, there was Mary Elizabeth Braddon! Nope, I never heard of her either, but she was trending in Victorian times. Obscure pioneers in literature can now be found in “The Book of Forgotten Authors,” by Christopher Fowler:

Fowler devotes an entire chapter to the women who introduced readers to psychological suspense long before it conquered the bestseller lists. These “forgotten queens of suspense”, he writes, were “ignored, underrated, overlooked or taken for granted, the women who wrote popular fiction for a living were often simply grateful to be published at all.”

One of Aunt Kiki and the Rocker’s friends will soon be teaching a course on song writing. She is a musician and a feminist and I would love to take her course at UCLA. One of the songs her students will investigate is Shania Twain’s, “Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” Now Shania has her very own room in the Country Music Hall of Fame here in Nashville, and since Bob and I gave the Love Bug a small CD player for her room, along with Shania’s latest album, I’d love to hear her take on the evolution of country music to include more of the female voice, including women of color who were rarely recognized.

Because the #MeToo movement has started something that all my marches on Washington, all my work for Planned Parenthood, could never have imagined. Women’s stories are valued, but if we are not sitting up in the board rooms and back rooms of power, if we are not equally represented in the legislature, our work can still be marginalized, forgotten in the ebb and flow of history.

Her tee shirt says, “I will write my own story.”

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There’s no way around it, Hanukkah starts next week and shortly thereafter is Christmas. Great Grandma Ada told me she’s setting out for the mall to buy presents for all her little ones, and she needs some new makeup! I told her to be careful about “sale items” on the way to cosmetics, they can pull you away from your shopping goal.

“I don’t shop for myself anymore,” she said, “I shop my closet.”

“Ha, I shop my Pod!”

Or at least I wish I could shop my Pod. Almost every day that little Pod creeps into my conversation. I went to make chili, but my can opener was in the Pod. My super duper deluxe meatloaf pan from Williams Sonoma is in the Pod, not to mention my winter boots, hats and sweaters. Our mountain home sold so fast, Bob had to return for the final Pod Casting last summer, so I’m hoping all these things are in my Pod.

I never thought we’d be one of “those people” with a storage unit. Listen to Jerry Seinfeld’s bit on these wonders of the modern age; we Americans have so much crap we have to rent space just to contain it all! He called our homes “garbage processing centers,” and warned that once something leaves any part of the house for the garage it’s never allowed back in.  http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/videos/jerry-seinfeld-standup-tonight-show-20141224

I really really hope that no one accuses Jerry of sexual impropriety…

Sure the people who bought our home wanted the furniture, but that left all our personal belongings, including artwork, that would never fit in this tiny town home. Bob and I had packed for a month’s stay, thinking we’d go back and forth to Cville this winter. And I admit, we’ve been living the minimalist lifestyle pretty happily until now. The weather has changed and I’ve been missing my vintage blue Dutch Oven along with winter clothes. Although to be fair, we did visit the Pod once this Fall.

We had to schedule an appointment because presumably our Pod is stacked very high in a warehouse of similar Pods, like a sci-fi storage unit of astronauts in suspended life forms floating through space. It was one of those 90+ degree days and a crane dropped our Pod in the middle of a sunny, melting asphalt parking lot. We could only dig maybe a quarter of the way in, before heat exhaustion got the better of us – winter coats were salvaged along with some shoes and a chair or two.

And so there it sits, our poor little Pod, among thousands of similar Pods, waiting for us to find a beach house.

And while I extolled on the wonders of online shopping to Ada, who hasn’t tried Amazon yet, I drove myself over to my favorite independent bookstore, Parnassus, to pick out some special books for my little ones. Hint, if you have a three year old, she will love “Escargot!” Here is their gift list for children this season: https://parnassusmusing.net/2017/12/06/big-gift-list-2017-kids-teens/

Next, I walked over to a local designer pop-up boutique. Then down the street to our antique shop, where I can always score something fun and unusual. I found a beautiful silk and cotton scarf imprinted with an abstract guitar that was a perfect birthday gift for Aunt Kiki there. And I’m planning a visit to our amazing friend Robin’s pet boutique, “Come, Sit, Stay!” Because we only buy gifts for children during the holidays, and the occasional rescue dog. IF they’ve been good.

This December, I’m praying for a friend who broke her leg in too many places while saving her small son from drowning in TX. I’m sending positive vibes to a friend whose son is about to get a cardiac work-up in AL. And I’m wishing all those LA fires would just plain stop, and that our family and everyone on the Left Coast stay safe. And I wish Mr T would just resign already, instead of singlehandedly setting the mideast on fire with this Jerusalem business.

And I’m hoping when (or if) I’ve lived for nine decades, I’ll still think it’s a good idea to buy some new make-up!

So if you’re shopping for kids from 3 to 93, don’t let the holidays get you down ladies! Shop local, drink wine while baking cookies, and maybe splurge on a new winter hat! With pompoms, cause that Pod, you know. Thanks http://fannyandjune.com/shop/ Nashville!

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The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Billy Collins was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. This may have been one of our country’s most fragile times, when more people sought peace from poetry. And he is a poet who gets us, and last night Bob and I had the distinct pleasure to listen to him read some of his poems at Salon 615. Everyone of a certain age has picked up a book in rapt anticipation, only to find a few pages down the line that it’s something we’ve read before. I admit it, and Collins makes it bearable in his poem “Forgetfulness.”

Like that moment when he realized he was older than Cheerios, at the age of 70, and so wrote a poem about it. He scatters serious sonnets in among his readings, so last night’s audience gasped and laughed in unison. Because poetry is “…a megaphone.” Because he loves to make up new words, like “azaleate” – which loosely translated means we’ve arrived at a place just before, or after, it’s signature event. Oh, it’s too bad you’ll be missing the peak leaf season here in Vermont, let’s say. Or:

Bob and I azaleated the lavendar blossoming in Provence this year. 

Collins writes about cats and dogs from their point of view. And he even writes about Tennessee Fainting goats! This type of goat freezes and keels over whenever it is startled or feels panic. It’s something I may be catching here in loud and noisy Nashville 🙂

What brought me nearly to tears was Bob’s reaction; he didn’t fidget or head for the bathroom. He actually loved listening to Collins, we poked and prodded each other at yet another small truth that bounced between the two of us. It was like going to Jacob’s Pillow when we were young and discovering that he enjoyed the ballet almost as much as I did!

Then, towards the end of the evening, he turned to that ultimate question all couples must grapple with, “Who will go first?” The universal hope that “…you will bury me.” But is that really true love, to want to go first and save yourself from grieving. Bob has told me so often that due to his genetics he will most likely go first, and I almost believe him.

But what if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow? A very real possibility in this busy city. He would still buy peanut butter and jelly, he would still drive like someone from NJ. Maybe he wouldn’t search for a beach house, or maybe he would?

Collins recommended a book, one that had inspired him in his youth, by a philosopher named Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space.” And I remembered the Bride showing us her Public Policy building at Duke, the light pouring in through modern-Gothic arches. And just last year, pointing out her son’s little hidey-hole inside his closet in their new home.

In the first and last days of life, it is the cosmos of the home that takes on the full weight of human habitation, as retreat and space of belonging. Bachelard’s greatest work remains a compelling reflection on the enduring human need to find psychological refuge in familiar places and spaces, though its author admitted that poets and story-tellers got there first. 

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-the-poetics-of-space-by-gaston-bachelard-1673212.html

Here he is reading from his book, “The Rain in Portugal.”

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“What does feminism mean to you?” Maxine, a new friend questioned me. I had to stop and think, since it feels like such a natural element in my life, she might have well asked, “Why do you need to breathe?”

My rant began slowly and built up over time. But I had to start out with equal pay for equal work, a fundamental, major prerequisite for life here on earth. Luckily she agreed, but she is about ten years younger. I’ve noticed that some younger women take many of our rights for granted, they think the word “feminist” is alienating. They like to call themselves humanists.

Which is OK I guess. After all, they didn’t have to be married to get birth control from a paternalistic, male doctor. They didn’t see their friends mutilated from illegal abortions, and later be unable to bear children. They were never told not to consider college by a school counselor, instead apply to secretarial school. They were never shamed about their sex.

I fumbled into a bit of a Twitter tirade with a young feminist author recently. I try to avoid trolls at all costs, I believe in just blocking them at first sight. But I was reading Hunger by Roxanne Gay, so I started following her and she mentioned she was working on a group of stories about “difficult women.”  And I asked if “difficult women” are the same as “nasty women.”

“NO,” was her one word reply.

The problem was I didn’t see her reply until the next day and by that time a bunch of angry young “feminist” trolls had said some awful things about me in her feed. So I’m not some 12 year old girl who would have been crushed and possibly suicidal by the digital harassment. I responded to them… I said I was a 68 yr old feminist and truly didn’t know the difference and would they please explain. I went high.

Now one of the responders had mentioned “cis women,” and how fed up she was with them (me), so I was guessing this had to do with some Lesbian sexual thing, since Gay is gay and I was simply referencing Hillary’s “nasty women.” I remembered another instance of being shamed online, when a famous food blogger put my picture up and someone said I looked like a “man.”

Now that really hurt! But I blamed it on my pouffy hat at the Downton Abbey premier. IMG_0836

And if you haven’t heard Pink’s response to her daughter being told she looks like “…a boy with long hair,” listen to this: https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/8/27/16212862/pink-vma-2017-video-vanguard-acceptance-live-your-truth

Thank you very much Pink! It saddens me that some feminists with differing sexual preferences aren’t on the same page, because we all were once upon a time. Ms Gay deleted all those difficult/nasty/mean Tweets and then she blocked ME!

Fine. Her book became difficult for me to finish, and it wasn’t an easy start as she was gang raped at the age of twelve. But I didn’t block her, I’m giving her a chance to explain herself. After all, she doesn’t know I have a good Lesbian friend here in Nashville.

Now Ivanka is another story. She stood behind her dad in blocking the implementation of President Obama’s rule to address gender-based pay discrimination. (Remember that was my very first point to my new friend). The rule would have required businesses to collect data on pay discrepancies based on gender, ethnicity and race. Here is her explanation, in case you were wondering about her feminist cred.

“Ultimately, while I believe the intention was good and agree that pay transparency is important, the proposed policy would not yield the intended results. We look forward to continuing to work with EEOC, OMB, Congress and all relevant stakeholders on robust policies aimed at eliminating the gender wage gap.”

I wish we could all stop shaming each other. When I see snarky comments about FLOTUS wearing stilettos to a flood zone I get just as mad as I would have when anyone criticized Hillary’s hair or her clothes. I mean, come on…..

This is my high school graduation picture, 1966. I was a 17 year old budding feminist then, who didn’t wear stockings or makeup or tease her hair.

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